Hvar Island and its Cultural Heritage on the UNESCO Lists

Published in Highlights

The exhibition of Croatia's cultural heritage as recognized on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List highlights the fact that Hvar is extremely rich in prized assets and traditions. 

The Jelsa Cross in Pitve Church, 2014. The Jelsa Cross in Pitve Church, 2014. Photo Vivian Grisogono

The exhibition Croatian intangible  cultural heritage on the UNESCO lists is a compilation of the exceptionally interesting examples of Croatia's living heritage which enrich our social and cultural life in modern times. The presentation of this exhibition in Jelsa and Stari Grad is an opportunity for Hvar's islanders to recognize the value of what they have, within the varied context of Croatia's national heritage as a whole. With its arrival on Hvar Island, this 'travelling' exhibition is paying a visit to an old friend, and it places people and their community at its centre as the most important exponents of the intangible heritage. The significance of Hvar's role in this exhibition is best witnessed by the fact that this island is associated with four cultural assets which are firmly established on the Representative list of mankind's intangible cultural heritage, and which are on show here. The Za Križen Procession and the agava lace made by Hvar's Benedictine nuns were the first Hvar representatives to be added to the List, in 2009. Klapa singing as an expression of the cultural identity of Dalmatia as a whole, and therefore including Hvar Island, followed in 2012. Then the next year, in 2013, the Mediterranean Diet was incorporated in the List, a multinational cultural heritage subject whose key proponents were the islands of Hvar and Brač. Thus the Island of Hvar and its inhabitants have been recognized on the worldwide map of culture as representatives of an exceptionally rich cultural tradition whose significance transcends national boundaries.

Here it is essential to mention the Stari Grad Plain, even though it does not fall within the scope of this exhibition, as it is a material cultural heritage asset. The Stari Grad Plain was inscribed on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List as a cultural landscape in 2008. Its universal value is reflected in the preserved geometrical division of the land according to the Greek system of parcelization, which was set out in the 4th century BCE, and above all in the continuity of its cultivation as a source of food for the population throughout 24 centuries. These particularities are all the more marked because in the main it is the same agricultural crops which are being cultivated, olives and grapes being the most important. This demonstrates to us how the material cultural heritage is interlinked with the intangible cultural heritage, because the fruits of the Plain are a vital part of the Mediterranean diet.

Being part of the Mediterranean as expressed through food is recognized throughout the Adriatic coast, on its islands and on part of the hinterland. It was not by chance that Hvar was not selected to represent the Mediterranean Diet. The biggest fertile plain on all the Dalmatian islands and a sea rich with fish have made its inhabitants self-sufficient for food. Thousands of years of exposure to historical changes and to diverse cultural influences through sea-travel and trading have made Hvar's cuisine one of the most attractive on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. It has managed to preserve its original form 'within the kitchen walls' to the present day, through its modest tradition of agriculture and fishing preserving the 'poor man's' cooking, alongside the characteristics of the rich cooking whose influence was brought in from the east and west sides of the Mediterranean. Besides this, the customs of obtaining, distributing and eating food communally, combined with the family gatherings around the table for sacral feast days, turn food consumption into a social affair, and this is what makes the Mediterranean so special and recognizable.

Island socializing has its richest expression in its traditional music. Thanks to the dedicated work of researchers from the 19th century to the present time, we now have a substantial archive of the musical heritage of the islands. Thus numerous folk tales and songs relating to their life and customs throughout the year have been saved from oblivion. Nowadays there are many male and female a capella groups (known as klape in Croatian), which are more or less formally organized, and which nurture the tradition of the old songs, which are mainly on the subject of love. These singing groups are especially active during the summer months on local squares during island celebrations. A tradition has also been established for island singing groups to be invited to perform abroad, and in this way they promote Dalmatia's musical identity.

The particular symbols which are special to Hvar are the Procession known as Za križen, and the agava lace made by Hvar's Benedictine nuns. Hvar islanders are very religious, and it is their religious identity which to a great extent dictates the dynamics of community life on an everyday basis as on feast days. The Easter period, with the Za križen Procession as its central religious expression is at the heart of the year's feast days. The Procession represents Christ's sufferings and is the people's deep-felt expression of devotion to traditional values.

There are exceptional examples of Croatia's lace-making traditions in Lepoglava, on the Island of Pag, and in Hvar Town. Behind the walls of Hvar's Benedictine Convent, unique items of agava lace are created. The agava plant is the queen of the island's stony landscape, and teasing out fine thread from its fleshy leaves is a laborious task. Creating this protected lace from the agava thread is a very delicate skill in itself, practised only by these Benedictine nuns. Lace – not of agava – was the usual decoration in island homes, as well as being used for wedding finery, dresses and bedlinen. Lace-making is a tradition which women have preserved, with particular emphasis on the lace which was made to decorate a bride's dowry.

That such a small island can boast five UNESCO protected subjects undoubtedly emphasizes the thousands of years of continous rich cultural history that Hvar has enjoyed. Recent globalization processes and eonomic changes are altering the traditional style of living. However, some values, deeply ingrained in the mentality of the people, are still an important part of the island's life today. These values are a long-lasting link between the past and the future for the islanders as active actors in living within and preserving their heritage.

 

This exhibition has been placed in two locations in order to emphasize that heritage does not belong to one owner, but to all of us, to the individual and to mankind. Hvar's contribution to the exhibition is precisely in the values which the island's intangible heritage propounds, and which have become recognizable symbols of the island's cultural identity. In them one can recognize the influences, most of all from the Mediterranean, which have landed on the Hvar shores and reshaped in the long-term the life of the island's microcosm, in which the 'imported' elements have gained their own significance.

One such historical link is coming to the fore right now, in 2016. We are coming up to a significant anniversary of the founding of the Greek polis of Faros, today's Stari Grad, 2,400 years ago. This is an opportunity for us to call to mind two important elements in the tradition which frames our everyday lives – on one hand there is a continuity expressed in preserving our cultural heritage, and on the other hand there is constant change which is mirrored in the adaptation of traditions to the needs of the new times in which we live, so that we can pass them on to the generations to come.

© Marija Plenković 2016

Translated by Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon)

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